Sunday, 13 June 2021

Jonah – Part 2 – Fact or Fiction?

We are not told what Jonah had promised to God, but it must have been something along the lines of agreeing to speak out whatever prophetic message the Lord gave to him.  Many of us have made promises to God and this prayer of Jonah is a reminder for us to review those vows. 

(Please start by reading Jonah 2)

Source: Bret Hammond
Discussions persist as to whether it is possible for a man to survive inside a whale. Scientific minded people will point out that it is not possible for a human to pass through a whale oesophagus, and if they did, they would quickly die from drowning, crushing or from strong stomach juices. There is, however, an account of a sailor in the late 19th century whose whaling boat was capsized by a sperm whale they had harpooned. All but two of the men were rescued and returned to the main ship, the ‘Star of the East’. James Bartley was subsequently found and rescued from the animal’s stomach as they cut it open, some fifteen hours later.  It is said that his skin was bleached, he lost his hair and he was nearly blind, but he lived another 19 years. The story circulated around newspaper articles for 100 years, until in the 1980’s someone decided to check out the truth. Records revealed that the Star of the East was not a whaling vessel and there was no-one on board by the name of James Bartley. 

There are many other seafaring yarns and hoaxes which don’t allow the facts to get in the way of a good story, and the name Jonah is still considered to be bad luck to any seafaring crew. But let us look at the Biblical account. It says at the end of chapter 1 that the Lord appointed/prepared/provided a great fish to swallow Jonah. So why should we doubt that God, who created all things (Jonah 1:9), is able to make whatever sea creature He wants to fulfil His purposes at the exact time of His choosing?

At this point we should overlook some of the Sunday school stories and pre-conceived ideas and look at the text. It seems to me from the language that Jonah actually died and was then resuscitated; ‘out of the belly of Sheol’ (Jonah 2:2) – Sheol in every other scripture is the place of the dead; ‘The waters closed in over me to take my life’ (Jonah 2:5)  – drowning; ‘at the roots of the mountains’ (Jonah 2:6a) – deep sea; ‘I went down to the land whose bars closed upon me forever' (Jonah 2:6b)’ – no return, but…‘yet you brought up my life from the pit’(Jonah 2:6c). This is the language of one who has passed away but has been brought back again for a purpose.

Source:Angela Arndt
Some eight centuries later Jesus was being challenged by the Pharisees who demanded a sign. In Matthew 12:38-41 He answered; ‘A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and now something greater than Jonah is here’.

So, Jonah was a sign. He brought a message of repentance to bad people, but he himself had to die and be restored to life to demonstrate God’s authority over life and death. God confirms His Word with miracles. This sign points forward to Jesus who was to die on behalf of sinners and to be raised, not just for a few more years but for all eternity, into heaven, in the presence of God on our behalf (Hebrews 9:24).

Jonah ran away from the presence of God and died trying to spare his own people of Israel from the ravages of the Assyrians. He was brought back to preach repentance to those undeserving of mercy. Jesus died bearing the burden of all the sins of all mankind. He was resurrected and restored to glory where He intercedes for us (Hebrews 7:25). Jonah’s was a brief restoration to temporal existence, possibly bearing the evidence of his ordeal, but Jesus was resurrected to his new body, permanent and indestructible, yet still bearing the marks of His suffering. Nevertheless, Jonah became a sign of greater things to come.

Hidden in that dark, cold and lonely place Jonah repented saying in Jonah 2:9 ‘what I have vowed I will pay’. We are not told what he had promised to God, but it must have been something along the lines of agreeing to speak out whatever prophetic message the Lord gave to him.  Many of us have made promises to God and this prayer of Jonah is a reminder for us to review those vows.

The moment Jonah repented and vowed to pay up on his promise the power of heaven came down and the shout ‘salvation belongs to the Lord’ went up, the fish heard the voice of its Creator, spat out the prophet, and Jonah was back on dry land.

Next week:  Nineveh – Innocent or Guilty?

Be Blessed.

Author: John Plumb

May God bless and enrich your life

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Sunday, 6 June 2021

Jonah – Coward or Hero?

The cost of obedience to God’s call may be even greater than the cost of disobedience.  The question we might ask ourselves today is this: ‘Am I prepared to hear God’s Word and to act on it, whatever the consequences and whatever the cost?’

(Please start by reading Jonah 1 - the whole chapter)

Source: Heart of Mesa
When the Word of the Lord came to Jonah and what did he do?  He ran.  God had told him to go to Nineveh, some 500 miles north-east of his hometown, but instead he headed for Tarshish, a couple of thousand miles to the west.  What triggered such terror for this prophet of the Lord and why such flagrant disobedience?

The year is 760BC, and the Hebrew people are a divided nation – Judah to the south and Israel to the north.  Both kingdoms have suffered from idolatrous and power-hungry leaders, but northern Israel has been particularly afflicted, and their territory whittled away by surrounding enemy states. God has sent the prophets Elijah, Elisha, and later Amos and Hosea to remind them of the results of repeated apostasy and rebellion against God’s commands. But, to a despairing nation, Jonah brings a message of hope; 2 Kings 14:26-27 ‘For the Lord saw that the affliction of Israel was very bitter, for there was none left, bond or free, and there was none to help Israel. But the Lord had not said that he would blot out the name of Israel from under heaven, so he saved them by the hand of Jeroboam the son of Joash’.

Jereboam II, though yet another godless despot, was able to take back lost territory, quadrupling the size of Israel and ushering in a time of unprecedented prosperity through trade.  All of which was foretold by Jonah the prophet. 2 Kings 14:25 ‘He restored the border of Israel from Lebo-hamath as far as the Sea of the Arabah, according to the word of the Lord, the God of Israel, which he spoke by his servant Jonah the son of Amittai, the prophet, who was from Gath-hepher’. So, we don’t know why God chose Jereboam as deliverer, but we do know that Jonah had impeccable credentials as a prophet of the Lord, yet he still ran.

Source: Redbubble
Now imagine Jonah’s journey from Gath Hepher to Joppa. God could have blocked his way at any time, but our prophet made it to Joppa, had the money for the expensive fare, and found a ship going the way he wanted to go. What was going on in Jonah’s mind?  From the text we know that he was no coward; later telling the sailors to throw him into a storm-tossed sea, and later still telling God that he was not afraid to die. We can only imagine the reasons for the turmoil in this man’s mind as he walked the 60 miles to Joppa.  

As a prophet, Jonah had been given a glimpse of what was to come.  Within a generation the Assyrians (whose vast capital city was Nineveh) would cross the newly established borders of Israel. They would come with vast armies bent on conquest through new levels of barbarism, for whom cruelty was a beaurocratic policy for subjugating every populace in their path and annihilating every culture not their own.  Everything that Jonah knew and loved would be swept away. His future family, his people and his tribe Zebulun would be ravaged, brutalised and deported, the borders gone and the brief success of northern Israel as if it never happened. Isaiah 10:5-6 ‘Ah, Assyria, the rod of my anger; the staff in their hands is my fury! Against a godless nation I send him, and against the people of my wrath I command him, to take spoil and seize plunder, and to tread them down like the mire of the streets’.

Jonah could do nothing to prevent God’s plans.  Worse still, he is being called by God himself to preserve the future tormenters and oppressors who will commit atrocities against all he cares for. He knows God as the God of mercy, he knows the Ninevites as the thugs they were, and he knows what is to come for his people, and he would rather be drowned than have to deliver that message. I imagine on that road to Joppa he’s asking a different question: ‘Why me?’ Here is a man who was prepared to do anything to save his people, even to die so they might be spared, and who points forward eight centuries to one who will.

The cost of obedience to God’s call may be even greater than the cost of disobedience.  The question we might ask ourselves today is this: ‘Am I prepared to hear God’s Word and to act on it, whatever the consequences and whatever the cost?’

Next week we ask the question: Jonah – Fact or Fiction?

Be Blessed.

Author: John Plumb

May God bless and enrich your life

Please feel free to share this article and other articles on this site with friends, family and others